USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Conclusion to A New Middle East

We will come back to the situation on the Arabian Peninsula later in the semester when we look at “three reactions to modernity.” In the meantime, let’s sum up the situation in the Middle East between the world wars in a few quick sentences. Like in Europe, the victorious powers, foremost England and France, carved up the former imperial territories of the Ottoman Empire in order to maximize their strategic interests. Because these interests were often at odds with local traditions and constellations of power, the balance of the entire region was upset. The formation of Iraq, for example, or the artificial divisions of Syria and Lebanon, or the creation of out thin air of Trans-Jordan, created a false sense of stability, propped up by imperial military and economic power. Popular uprising against these colonial arrangements was constant, only to be quelled with overpowering violence or aggressive domestic political agendas. In the end, all of these countries sought a way out of their subservient status—adopting various ways to create a counter-force to imperial rule. Some countries (like Iran, Turkey, and Egypt) strove to increase sentiments of nationalism. Other countries, like Syria or Saudi Arabia, looked to Pan-Arabism or Islamic fundamentalism. Many nations, like Iraq and Lebanon, experienced wave after wave of violence. Throughout all this, Western interests, European and American, maneuvered to increase their exploitation of Middle Eastern oil and trade.

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